Convicted animal abuser asks judge for more animals

2013-02-26T15:47:00Z 2013-04-11T16:31:16Z Convicted animal abuser asks judge for more animalsBy GREG TUTTLE gtuttle@billingsgazette.com The Billings Gazette

A former Ballantine dog breeder convicted in 2009 of aggravated animal cruelty returned to court Tuesday to argue that she should be allowed to have more animals because her court-appointed attorneys failed to properly represent her.

Linda Kapsa testified before District Judge Susan Watters that she needs 20 goats to properly provide herself and her animals with enough milk.

Kapsa also told the judge she would like to "bring home" three of the dogs that were among the 200 dogs seized by county officials from her Ballantine property in late 2008.

In July 2009, Kapsa pleaded no contest to a single count of aggravated animal cruelty in what authorities described as one of the worst animal abuse cases in the state.

After receiving numerous complaints of neglected dogs and other animals, county authorities twice raided Kapsa's property, removing about 200 English shepherds, nearly 20 chickens and other animals.

Authorities said they found many dead dogs on the property, including puppies. Many of the dogs were underfed and sick, and the rescue effort became a huge undertaking as the animals were held at MetraPark and cared for by volunteers for months while the criminal case against Kapsa was pending.     

A month after Kapsa changed her plea, Watters imposed a suspended 20-year sentence to the state Department of Public Health and Human Services. The judge also restricted the number of animals Kapsa could keep to three altered dogs, 20 chickens, 10 goats, three altered cats and two cockatiels.

Kapsa was allowed to keep four horses, but the judge said she could not replace them after they died.

After the sentencing, the dogs seized from Kapsa were released to a national English shepherd rescue group for adoption.

The hearing Tuesday was held as part of a civil post-conviction relief action filed on Kapsa's behalf in September 2011 by Billings attorney Elizabeth Honaker.

In the petition, Kapsa argues that she should receive a reduced sentence because the public defenders assigned to her criminal case, David Duke and Moira D'Alton, failed to properly represent her.

Duke and D'Alton were among the witnesses who testified Tuesday during a hearing that lasted more than five hours. Watters said she would issue a ruling later.

Honaker said Kapsa's complaints center on the public defender's actions at Kapsa's sentencing hearing. Honaker said the court-appointed lawyers failed to call witnesses to counter the picture painted by state prosecutors of the deplorable conditions found at Kapsa's property.

The defense lawyers also failed to call an expert to bolster Kapsa's assertion that she could afford to care for more animals, and that more animals died while under the care of county officials and volunteers than were found dead during the raids at her property.

Honaker also said the lawyers did not object to a more restrictive recommendation from a probation officer on the number of animals Kapsa should be allowed to keep, and they did not object to the mention by prosecutors of a 1993 misdemeanor animal cruelty case involving Kapsa.

Kapsa was among the first witnesses, and told the judge that her lawyers failed to use a report she provided from a local feed seller showing the estimated cost of caring for more animals.

The restriction to 10 goats created a hardship because that was not enough to provide milk for herself and her other animals, she said.

"That's my source of milk, and I have to have at least eight milking goats," she said.

Kapsa said she would like to be allowed 20 goats.

She also said that three of the dogs seized from her property more than three years ago have not been adopted. 

"I have three dogs that are in the rescue that are very close to me, and I'd like to bring them home," Kapsa tearfully told the judge.    

Lawyers with the County Attorney's Office, Ingrid Rosenquist and Mark English, oppose Kapsa's petition and called Duke and D'Alton to testify. Both public defenders said they provided Kapsa with proper legal representation.

D'Alton told Honaker during cross-examination that the defense attorneys didn't think it was in Kapsa's best interest to point out the number of dogs that died after they were rescued.

"The dogs died in state care, but they wouldn't have died had they been taken care of in the first place," D'Alton said.

She also rejected the argument from Honaker that the defense could have offered a different description of Kapsa's property than that provided by the prosecutors.

"I believe it was as horrible as it was made out to sound," she said.      

Copyright 2014 The Billings Gazette. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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